Thursday, April 26, 2018
WIMOWEH...The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Some of you are familiar with The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Tight Fit (left), which in 1982 hit #1 in the UK, or in 1961 with The Tokens, which became #1 in the USA.
The song was recorded in 1939 by Solomon Linda with the Evening Birds in South Africa as Mbube (lion in Zulu). Linda actually initially wrote the song in the 1920's. He sold it to Gallo Studios for the equivalent of 87 cents and got a job as a janitor. The record was the first from Africa to sell over 100,000 copies.
My first recollection of this tune was by The Weavers, recorded in 1951. But they titled it Wimoweh, which was a mishearing of Uyimbube in the original chorus. Here they are again at one of their re-unions.
However, a couple of them were identified as Communist Party members (never confirmed), and they had to disband in 1952 at the height of their career. Pete Seeger in particular kept dropping out of the group for various reasons when they were able to do anything, but kept returning. If you really like them, here is their 49-minute Carnegie Hall concert in 1963: with On Top of Old Smokey, Goodnight Irene, Tzena Tzena Tzena, etc. Here, a one-hour documentary entitled Wasn't That a Time.
There are many other versions of Wimoweh, and among them:
Then the scads of copyright issues. That is the dark nature of the business. After a bunch of lawsuits and concessions, mostly involving Disney (for use in The Lion King), not only Solomon Linda, but Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss and Albert Stanton also got credited for writing the song.
A particular injustice was that while the mess was being handled by lawyers in the courts, Linda's daughter Adelaide died of AIDS at the age of 38 because she could not afford the anti-viral treatment.
Pete Seeger told the story of the sleeping lion as symbolic of the Zulu people, who would some day wake up to British rule. The Zulus are the largest ethnic group, mostly in South Africa, exceeding 12 million.